Chance is the key word in the title. For Kelly, universal truths are futile, even dangerous. Between two poles -- an absolutist, uncompromising mindset that embraces the "tyranny of abstractions over individuals" and a mindset that rejects encompassing truths for "agonizing choices without the help of universal criteria" -- Kelly places herself squarely in the second camp. In her eyes, reality is "inherently fragmentary, at the mercy of time and chance."
Usually, nineteenth-century Russian men of ideas are placed in the absolutist camp and hence held responsible for the excesses eventually leading to 1917. Kelly disagrees. In a series of sharply chiseled essays, she reintroduces many of these thinkers not only as members of the second group, but as so acute in their judgments that they could instruct the current (as she sees it) "postmodern" era. The hero in Kelly's story is Alexander Herzen, the nineteenth-century Russian foe of autocracy, whom she was taught to understand by her other hero, Sir Isaiah Berlin.